The manager as coach: pros and cons of internal vs external coaches

By Elisabeth Goodman, 17th March 2020

Many organisations are developing their managers to be internal coaches, as an alternative to hiring external coaches to develop their staff.  This blog explores the pros and cons of doing so.

Coach – meaning ‘to carry’ a definition originating from Kocs, a village in Hungary that used to make carriages

Why develop your managers to be coaches?

According to Downey (2014), managers ideally combine leadership, management and coaching skills in order to fulfil their role. This gives them the flexibility to use the appropriate intervention to support the learning and development of their direct reports (see Goodman, 2020).

We know from adult learning theory (Stober and Grant, 2006) that adults are self-directed in their learning.  They are often more motivated when they have greater autonomy and freedom of thought and action (Pink, 2010). And creating individual awareness and responsibility is at the core of effective coaching (Whitmore, 2009).

In addition, where team members are more independent thinkers, managers no longer need to tell them how to do things, nor do they need to micromanage them.  Coaching enables managers to focus on developing rather than controlling their team members (Rogers, 2016), and so also frees up more of their time for strategic activities.

when does coaching by managers not work?

Coaching requires fine-tuning of some basic interpersonal skills, many of which are closely linked to good leadership skills (Peltier, 2010).  These include:

  • Integrity and the ability to inspire trust
  • Emotional maturity or intelligence (being able to notice and manage / respond appropriately to their own and others’ emotions)
  • An ability to establish strong collaborative relationships (see also Starr, 2008)

If a manager does not have these skills, or is not able to apply them appropriately, then it will be difficult to have the kind of open and honest conversation that is a hallmark of effective coaching.

This collaborative relationship can also be adversely affected if a manager feels the need to revert to a disciplinary style of management.

Lastly, an individual may not be comfortable raising more personal issues for coaching discussions with their managers.  Or both parties might find it difficult to revert to their original collaborative approach after having discussed deeper, more personal, issues.

When might external coaches be more useful?

External coaches might be most useful:

  1. To develop a manager’s coaching skills
  2. As coaches to managers
  3. To provide on-going support for managers who are coaching (this is also referred to as ‘coaching supervision’)
  4. To fill a gap until internal coaches become available
  5. For more personal or non-task related coaching

Note that an organisation could also develop other members of staff, for instance in HR, or other managers, to fulfil any of the above.


There are some very real benefits of developing your managers’ coaching skills – for both developing and motivating the members of their team.

Some circumstances might make it difficult for managers and their team members to have the level of trust that’s required for the open and honest conversations that effective coaching requires.

External coaches can provide value in developing and supporting managers for their coaching roles, and as an alternative source of coaching when required.



Downey, M, (2014). Effective modern coaching. London: LID Publishing.

Goodman, E. (2020). The manager as coach: leadership, management and coaching. (accessed 17th March 2020)

Peltier, B. (2001). The psychology of executive coaching: Theory and application. New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Pink, D. (2010). RSA Animate: The surprising truth about what motivates us. (accessed 17th March 2020)

Rogers, J. (2016). Coaching skills: The definitive guide to being a coach (4th ed.) Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education.

Stober, D.R. & Grant, A. (2006). Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting best practice to work for your clients. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons.

Whitmore, J. (2009).  Coaching for performance: GROWing human potential and purpose: the principles and practice of coaching and leadership. Boston: Nicholas Brealey

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and one-to-one coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.  She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to develop management and ‘soft’ skills, especially associated with change, and with Neurodiversity.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

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